Burn for Me Page 7

Moments dragged by, towing a convoy of minutes.

“Oh come on,” the male voice said.

Rogan leaned back. The wind stirred his long, dark hair.

“Let it rip,” the first woman murmured.

The video blurred for a moment. I held my breath.


“And?” the male voice asked. “You told me he was some sort—”

The white tower on the right slid to the side like a cut tree.

This couldn’t have been happening. Nobody could cut through a building.

Cracks streamed up the tower. On the left, thin puffs of grey dust shot out of the office complex windows. The building held together for one long, torturous second. The front of it sagged and plunged down, tons of bricks and stucco plunging, like the waters of Niagara Falls. Thunder pealed as thousands of tons of rock, steel, and concrete crashed onto the street.

Oh my God. My insides went cold. The sheer power. A human being couldn’t contain that much power.

Offscreen, people screamed. Their cries had no words, only the raw, primal sounds of intense human terror.

The tower collapsed. Dense smoke, churning with grey and black dust, billowed like a tsunami from both buildings, clashing in the middle of the street right over Mad Rogan. Six feet on both sides of him the blast waves broke, rolling back as if bouncing from an invisible wall. Debris crashed into the barrier and ricocheted into the street. He stood enveloped in a funnel of clear, calm air.

Wind swirled Rogan’s dark hair. He turned his hands palms up.

The recording blurred. To the left and right, the buildings adjacent to the rubble, a red tower and a brown apartment high-rise, fractured and fell. The sound was deafening.

“Stop him!” the man screamed.

“He can’t be stopped,” the original woman howled over the roar of the falling buildings. “He can’t hear us or see us! We have to wait it out!”

Mad Rogan’s feet left the ground. He rose two feet above the pavement.

“It’s not me,” the levitator screamed. “It’s not me, I can’t reach him!”

The recording blurred.

The camera trembled. The heavy truck parked on the left slid toward it.

“Jesus Chri—” a man yelled.

The recording stopped midword.

Bern and I stared at the dark screen. I sat, shell-shocked, not sure what to do next. I’ve studied many Primes. I’ve never seen one who could do that. This was inhuman.

“I think we should reconsider getting involved,” Bern said.

“It’s too late,” I told him. My voice sounded dull. “I took the job.”

We looked at the screen some more.

“We can’t tell Mom,” I said.

“Oh no, no, we really can’t.” Bern clicked the video off and went to erase the browser history.

“Leon?” I guessed.

“Mhm. He likes to snoop, and he’ll blow our cover.”

The video disappeared, but my dread didn’t.

“What kind of magic was that?”

“The consensus is, he’s an inorganic telekinetic.”

“Telekinetics move things. They don’t cut buildings in half.”

“He does,” Bern said.

“What’s Mad Rogan doing now?” I asked.

“He left the military four years and eight months ago. Nobody has seen him since. By all indications, he became a shut-in. The chatter on the House groupie forums says he was horribly disfigured in the war.”

“Yes, and he’s waiting for just the right woman to come and love him as he is.”

Bern gave me a small smile. Primes, like any celebrities, had their admirers, especially the young, handsome, male, unmarried Primes. They spawned a whole subculture on Instagram, Tumblr, and Vine. They even had their own social network—Herald. Most of the content consisted of photos of Primes, fanart and fanfiction, often with a romantic bend, and wild speculation about who was going to marry whom and what sorts of powers their kids could possibly have. Usually powers carried over from generation to generation, but when two different magic bloodlines mixed, there was always a chance for some mayhem.

“Does he love his cousin?” I asked.

“The Lanceys disowned Kelly Waller when she turned twenty-two.”

Wow. Being thrown out of the family was the worst kind of punishment. Having financial support severed was hard enough, but being disowned also cut you off from all family contacts and connections. It made you an outcast. You couldn’t go to your family’s friends or to your family’s enemies, because neither would trust you. Members of the Houses almost never suffered being disowned, even when they were complete screwups. Case in point, Adam Pierce probably murdered a man and injured a woman and two children, and his House was falling over itself trying to bring him back into the fold. Members of a House were simply too valuable. The Lanceys weren’t the main branch of House Rogan, but still.

“Why would they do that?”

“I don’t know,” Bern said. “But she hasn’t had any contact with either Rogans or Lanceys. Three years ago her bakery went under.”

Rogan had gotten out almost two years prior. “He didn’t help her?”

Bern shook his head. “Also, she and her husband, Thomas, repeatedly borrowed against their house for Gavin’s tuition. They’ve been hanging by a thread for the last two years.”

“How much did she need to keep the bakery open?”

“According to her bankruptcy filing, eighty-seven grand would’ve paid off her debts.”

Eighty-seven grand would have been chump change to Mad Rogan. He was the head of the House. Poor Kelly Waller. All my life I knew that my parents loved me unconditionally. Oh they let me suffer the consequences of my mistakes, but they always loved me. I could go on a wild shooting spree and murder a dozen people, and my mother and my grandmother would be horrified, but they would fight for me to the bitter end. They would be confounded, but they would still love me, and get me the best attorney, and cry when I would go to the sacrificial chair. If my father had still been alive, he would have done the same. Ms. Waller’s family jettisoned her out, and they didn’t lift a finger to help her no matter how desperate she got. It was tragic and painful for her, but encouraging for us.

I phrased my question carefully. I would need Bern in my corner for this investigation. “Have you seen any indications that Mad Rogan is taking an interest in what happens to Gavin?”


“Neither did Montgomery, or it would be in the file. Look, he didn’t bail her out during a bankruptcy, when it would’ve cost him next to nothing. This arson smells so bad, everyone is running away from it as fast as they can. Nobody wants to be Adam Pierce’s friend right this second, let alone help Gavin Waller. We might be okay.”

Bern sighed. “What happens if we back off?”

“MII will call in our loan. We will default. They will seize all of our professional assets, including the warehouse and any equipment we have claimed as exemptions on our tax returns, which includes two of the cars, the weapons, the office equipment, and everything in this room.”

“We would be homeless and penniless,” Bern summarized.

“That’s about right.”

Bern’s eyebrows came together. His face went hard, his grey eyes turned to steel, and for a second I got a hint of what kind of man my cousin would become in a few years: determined and unflappable, like one of those medieval knights in armor. “That’s f**ked up.”


“Did you . . .”

“I explained our situation. They don’t care. They don’t want to offend House Pierce, and we look good on paper, so they are giving it to us, knowing we will fail. We are the cheapest option for them.”

“Let’s do it,” Bern said. “Let’s get Pierce and shove him down their throats so they’ll choke on him.”

Yes. “Thanks.”

“Always.” Bern grinned. “We are family.”

Chapter 3

Cornelius Maddox Harrison lived in Royal Oaks, which was slightly strange. I would’ve expected an address inside the Loop.

Houston was defined by three roads, which circled it in rings. The first road, closest to the city center, was known as the Loop. Inside the Loop lay the central business districts—the downtown—and the pricey “it” neighborhoods like River Oaks, University Towne, and a chunk of Bellaire. If you moved out about five miles or so from the Loop, you’d cross the Beltway, the second ring. Ten miles more and you would hit a stretch of Grand Parkway, the third ring, which was still in the process of being constructed. Royal Oaks lay just outside the Beltway, in the Westside.

Houston was an odd city, which was in the habit of devouring smaller towns and turning them into neighborhoods. We had no zoning laws, so business centers sprung up organically where they were needed, with residential areas clustering around them. Most of the city was sectioned off into territory of this or that House. It didn’t affect normal people much. House members took interest in other House members. We were the small fries.

House Harrison wasn’t large or powerful enough to claim its own territory, but they were comfortably wealthy. Cornelius Harrison was the second son of Rupert and Martha Harrison. His older sister and brother likely would inherit the reins of the family. His sister lived in University Towne, his brother lived close to his parents in River Oaks, but Cornelius had moved all the way outside the Beltway. Not that he was slumming it, I reflected, driving down the long street. Giant houses sat here and there on generous, artfully landscaped lots next to an immaculate golf course. The noise of the city had receded. We could’ve been in the middle of some resort miles from any metropolis. Each small mansion probably cost about two million and up. It’s good to be rich.

My GPS chimed at me. I pulled up to a sprawling mansion. Two stories high under a roof of clay shingles, the house looked like it was a movie prop: the walls perfectly clean, the yellow stone steps devoid of any debris, and the plants flanking the walkway trimmed with precision usually reserved for bonsai. I parked the car in the driveway, walked up to the door, pulled out my ID, and rang the bell.

A few seconds later the door swung open and a short trim man in his late twenties regarded me with solemn blue eyes. His dark blond hair was cut short, his jaw was clean shaven, and his face had a slightly absentminded expression, as if he was thinking about something completely abstract when you interrupted and now struggled to remember what it was.

I smiled, trying to project trustworthy and nonthreatening. “Mr. Harrison?”


I handed him the ID. My name alone would get me nowhere, so I decided to shoot with the biggest gun I had. “My name is Nevada Baylor. I work for Montgomery International Investigations. I was hired by House Pierce to find Adam Pierce.”

Cornelius Harrison grimaced and passed the ID back to me.

“May I ask you a few questions?”

He shrugged. “Sure. Come in.”

I followed him into a large foyer. The marble floor with inlaid mosaic gleamed with polish. A curving staircase led to the top floor on the left, guarded by an ornate wrought-iron rail. Cornelius turned to me. “Foyer, library, or kitchen?”

“Kitchen, please.” People felt comfortable and relaxed in the kitchen, and the more relaxed Cornelius was, the more information I’d be able to pull out of him.

We crossed the formal dining room into a large kitchen lined with cherry cabinets and equipped with granite countertops. The kitchen opened into a sunny family room. By the window, crayons and pages from a coloring book depicting roosters with big tails lay scattered on the breakfast table. The roosters were decorated in a rainbow of colors.

Cornelius picked up the pages, arranged them into a neat stack, and set them aside. “Something to drink?”

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